- Naomi with some new friends.
As our Gap Year team settle back into “normality” after 4 weeks visiting CAFOD partners in Sierra Leone, I caught up with them to ask a few questions…
What were your expectations before the trip?
I expected to see a side of the world that I’d never seen, with poverty far beyond anything we see in the UK. The effects of the war were not as visible as I’d expected. I knew I’d be challenged by this visit. The people were always making the best of whatever they had.
How was the journey out there?
Naomi: I had a few weather related problems but got there eventually. Pete and Joe: We enjoyed the hospitality of British Airways, good films and decent food. The water taxi to Freetown gave us time to appreciate the stunning views of the coastline, then into a Jeep, bags on the roof and onto the crowded streets of Freetown.
Your first impressions?
Lumley beach and the beautiful natural scenery. Loud car and truck horns as people were everywhere. The smell of wood fires, which was like camping, but it’s not great long term. The roadside stall selling everything. People carrying fruit and bread on their heads. Litter strewn streets and a lack of tarmac as soon as you turned off the main road.
How was the accommodation and food?
Pete and Joe: Better than expected, good food and beds. We had showers and flushing toilets.
Naomi: In Kenema it was pretty basic, a bucket of water to flush the toilet. But we all washed our hair in the rain!
Highlight of the trip?
Visiting Makassa, a 5 year project with Caritas, building a water pump, school and now planning a healthcare centre. A great example of CAFOD partners and local people working together. A visit to Rafinka showed how the people will help each other. Rafinka receives agricultural support but it passes on resources to another 5 communities. On a visit to a hydro-electric dam and rubber plantation, we saw that the local people don’t always benefit from the exploitation of natural resources. The plantation was foreign owned and there was only one of the four turbines working. The dam also had caused flooding for some villages.
Lows of the trip?
On the first night we were hot, tired and had a tummy bug. “What are we doing here?” but it all soon passed.
Tell me one story that you’ll always remember.
Joe & Pete: Meeting “Tyson” who was a child soldier. He said that he had grown up in the rebel army and had seen war and death and he had the scars to prove it. When he escaped from the army, he was helped by a Caritas rehousing project.
Naomi: going into a classroom for 14 year olds and it being full of 20 year olds because their education was stopped by the war.
What reflections on the trip do you have?
Pete: It was great to see where supporter’s money goes, from the local parishes to the people who we met who benefit from it.
Joe: The drive and hope that people have and the way they take ownership of the projects that help them out. Naomi: The local people’s involvement in things like the Task Force for disaster reduction, carrying out risk management on bush fires and setting up communication channels if a bush fire happens.
What would you say to other people, thinking of applying to join Step Into The Gap?
Do it! Take the opportunity and go at it at 100mph!
Pete Naomi and Joe are back at the Youth Ministry Team working with young people and passing on their experiences to others. For all three of them, their Sierra Leone adventure is something they’ll never forget.
For more details and an application form to join CAFOD’s Step Into The Gap programme, see http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year
But be quick, applications close on 25th April!